American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Ice—Probably from Falling Rock, Exceeding Abilities, Inadequate Protection, Unwillingness to Change Plans, Wyoming, Grand Teton

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1992

FALL ON ICE—PROBABLY FROM FALLING ROCK, EXCEEDING

ABILITIES, INADEQUATE PROTECTION, UNWILLINGNESS TO

CHANGE PLANS

Wyoming, Grand Teton

On August 25, James Stamper (27), Jeffrey Jarvi (34), David Riggs (30), and Thomas Burch (35) established a high camp on the Lower Saddle of the Grand Teton. They summitted via the Exum Ridge on August 26 and returned to the same high camp. According to interviews with his partners, Stamper had exhibited inadequate technique and judgment during the climb: he climbed before being put on belay, moved faster than the belayer could take up rope, and chose unnecessarily difficult descent lines.

At 0400 on August 27, the four left camp for the Black Ice Couloir. They reached the intersection of the Enclosure Couloir with the Valhalla traverse by 0600. Here, they stopped due to uncertainty about the proper route and spontaneous rockfall. Confusion about the route continued until after 0800.

Throughout this time, Jarvi, Riggs, and Burch considered retreat; Stamper, however, was adamant that he continue the climb regardless of routefinding dilemmas, frequent rockfall, and the lateness of the day. He refused to consider the judgments and instincts of his partners, swearing at them and belittling their skills, commitment, and courage. When his partners decided to abort the climb, Stamper chose to attempt a solo ascent of the couloir. His partners caught glimpses of his progress until 1100. They then returned to camp and continued down to Lupine Meadows, leaving Stamper’s tent and gear in place at the Lower Saddle. When he did not return to Lupine Meadows by 1000 the next day, his partners reported him overdue. The Park Service located his body at the base of the Black Ice Couloir during an air search on the afternoon of August 28. The body was recovered on the morning of August 29.

A massive head injury indicates that Stamper died quickly during the fall. His helmet was absolutely shattered and still on his head. He was still wearing a harness, plastic boots, and equipment rack. His crampons were knocked off in the fall and no sign of the rope or ice tools was found. Fresh, crescent-shaped marks in the ice below the crux pitch suggest that Stamper may have fallen or been knocked off by rockfall in the area of the crux pitch making his fall 1,000 feet or more in length. (Source: Peter Arm- ington, Ranger, Grand Teton National Park)

Analysis

It is clear that Stamper acted against the advice, instincts, and judgments of his three partners. He seems to have been unwilling to adapt or change plans even when presented with good reasons for doing so. Though he had shown inadequate technique and judgment on the previous day’s ascent, he judged himself capable of soloing a difficult route notorious for rockfall. His partners tried, but were unable to dissuade him. Deteriorating weather, which turned to rain later in the day, may have contributed to the accident. It is not clear whether Stamper fell as a result of rockfall or because of a technical error. (Source: Phil Powers, Mountaineering Coordinator, NOLS)

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